Venezuelans

FLASHBACK: Venezuelan men, women and children held in Cedros. Source: TTPS

Trinidad’s maritime border with Venezuela continues to be breached with ease, with an unknown number of undocumented Venezuelans coming ashore and blending into the local migrant population.

And concern is being raised that while Trinidad and Tobago is taking unprecedented measures to limit foreigners from entering the country at official ports of entry, not enough is being done to stop people making the trip from Venezuela, where confirmed COVID-19 cases crossed 30 on Monday, prompting Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro to implement a nationwide quarantine.

Last week Tuesday, 37 Venezuelans were held in a convoy of vehicles in Cedros. The men, women and children had camped out in abandoned coconut estates and the bushes waiting for local contacts to move them into South and Central Trinidad.

And on Monday afternoon, 29 Venezuelans were held in the same area. Among the group were five children. They had only just been dropped off by fishing boats.

There was no effort to screen any of these detainees for illness, police officers say. They were simply taken to the police station for processing and deportation.

Weak policing

Local government councillor for Cedros Shankar Teelucksingh said the number of Venezuelans entering the country was being vastly under-reported, since no one knew how many were getting in undetected along the numerous coves and bays along the peninsula.

He said residents who were seeing the movement of the Venezuelans being dropped off in Chatham, Icacos, Galfa, and Columbus, were alarmed given the number of COVID-19 cases being reported in Venezuela.

He said no one knew the health condition of those entering the country, and it was unlikely they would seek medical treatment if they fell ill.

Health authorities are reminding Venezuelans in Trinidad and Tobago that they can seek medical treatment at public health centres without fear of being reported to the authorities.

Teelucksingh said the registration of Venezuelans in June 2019 led to a decrease in the number of Venezuelans coming ashore, but there has been a surge in recent weeks.

The local law enforcement response to the surge has been ineffective, the Express was told by a senior police officer in the south-western division.

This is so because not enough officers are assigned to a shift at the Cedros Police Station and they are expected to patrol a vast area. The officers do not have a four-wheel drive vehicle that can carry them into areas where the smuggling is happening.

There are operatives in Cedros who are monitoring the movement of police officers, customs and excise division officers, and coast guard officers, and are reporting back to smugglers so that law enforcement hot spots are avoided.

When there are police operations taking place on the peninsula, the smugglers drop off their cargo of humans, animals, guns and drugs near the ports of Morne Diablo and Palo Seco.

No fast boats are assigned to the Coast Guard station in Cedros, which is why there are seldom any reports of smugglers being interdicted at sea, the Express was told by a source with knowledge of the operations at the Cedros Complex, which closed its customs and immigration department in early 2019.

Teelucksingh said there needed to be an immediate intervention in the area, with a joint team of police officers and soldiers who could be reassigned from their base at Camp La Romaine, near San Fernando.

Young: There’s a reduction

The Express has asked National Security Minister for comment on the law enforcement effort along the south-western peninsula in response to the COVID-19 threat.

There was no immediate response, but last week, Young told the Express that heightened border security and the Venezuelan registration process did reduce the number of illegal migrants coming to Trinidad’s shores.

“The introduction of visas as well as robust border security operations did lead to a reduction in illegal migration. Of course, as happens all over the world, including in the USA, UK and other European countries, there are instances of persons attempting to illegally enter Trinidad and Tobago. The authorities continue to work together to tackle this issue,” he said.

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